With over 300 writers playing last season, it's fair to say that this game has become quite popular, drawing back numerous participants from seasons past. Why did you start this game, and when did you realize that it had taken on a life beyond your imagining?
In 2006 I was a couple years out from my divorce. There were a couple really rocky points where I was trying to figure out what exactly someone is supposed to do with themselves after being with someone for 10 years. It was a lot of spending time alone in my apartment with my cats! Which also means that I was spending time on internet, and on LiveJournal. My divorce was practically live blogged, from both sides, on LJ! Over the years, the place, and the people, really got to be a larger portion of my life. Definitely more than was healthy at times. But come on, who hasn’t been there? ;)
I was at the point where, in order to get people on my Friends List to mingle, I came up with this idea for “LJ Fights!” I would match up people on my friends list and write a couple paragraphs about which one of them would win in a fight. This kept up until we had a winner.
It was a completely silly idea, but people had some fun with it.
When that finished, I wanted another project! A few years before, when I was heavily into the fanfic community, I had set up a game called “Fanfic Survivor” in which I tried to merge the two worlds that I loved.
That didn’t work out so well. But again, people had fun and more importantly for this interview, I learned some important lessons!
So I when I was trying to think of “What now?” I listed a bunch of names for projects. They weren’t ideas. They were literally just names. I was mostly joking about it when I set up the poll!
One of the ideas was the name “LJ Idol”.
For some reason, that name stuck with me, and I literally woke up one morning and I *knew how to make the idea work*!
LiveJournal is about writing and relationships. If you were going to have a competition, that needed to be at the core.
Once I decided on how things were going to work, I pretty much announced “This is going to happen!” and put a sign-up sheet on my page. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but 9 people signed up for it. I got impatient and didn’t wait around to see if we could grab a 10th!
It was pretty successful. But I got a lot of complaints about it being on my page. So one of my friends suggested we set up a community instead. I didn’t have the faintest notion how to do that. So she put the first page together for me, and the internet went downhill from there! :D
The second part of “when did I realize that it took on a life beyond my imaging” implies that I didn’t imagine that it could be as big as it has become! Heck, I imagined that it could get a whole lot bigger!
Seriously though, I think the tipping point for me was the start of Season 4. You see it happening in Season 2 and 3, but when we hit Season 4 the majority of people involved were people that I didn’t already know!
Which I think played a huge part in how infamous that season ended up becoming!
As a liturgist, the highly ritualized character of LJ Idol stands out for me. How long did it take before the basic ingredients for Idol's success became evident, and what are some of those ingredients?
I’m glad you noticed that!
Ritual is everything when you deal with something like this. People need to have a sense of place, and purpose. I like to think we manage that.
I was still very much trying to get a handle on what this thing was in Season 1 and 2. If you look back, you will see the first Green Room didn’t appear until Season 3! I started them because people were commenting in the “Topic threads” and it was becoming difficult to locate the actual entries!
Being that the entries are *the* most important priority, and people wanted to talk, I needed to come up with a separate area for that to happen.
I took the term “Green Room” from the stage term for the area backstage where people can hang out between performances.
There are definitely more, and they mostly came about from necessity. There was something that I needed to have done, so I had to figure out what it was, and how it was going to fit into the overall structure of Idol.
The key to that is that making sure that the attention is on the writers themselves and not the construct. When things are going smoothly, you shouldn’t realize that the ride is in motion!
Every major endeavor of one's life has the potential to be disappointing in at least some respects. Have you had any regrets about beginning/continuing Idol?
I’ve definitely lost/damaged some friendships as a direct result of it. Some of it is the need to separate being “the guy who runs Idol” from “the guy who is your friend”. And of course some of it is that I’m human and get caught up and say something stupid! Again though, who hasn’t done that, and ended up paying the price. There are always regrets when it comes down to things like that.
There is definitely the question of “if I put my attention to something else the way I did Idol, where would I be now?” Heck, if I monetized the process early on, which people were urging me to do – would I have been in a better financial situation over the years? Or would that, as I suspect, collapse the whole thing after a season or two?
It seems odd to shut things down when Idol has become such a beloved pastime for so many of its participants. Why are you choosing to make Season 9 the final full-length season? Do you have any plans to hand off moderation of Idol to someone else?
Taking the second part first: Idol started in my hands, and it will end in my hands. Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes is a hero of mine. He did his thing, and then he walked away. Some people respect that, and others make counterfeit C&H for your cars. You just have to hope that people honor what it is that you’ve created.
When I did the interview that is featured in Idol Musings, I was asked how long that I could foresee Idol going. I answered as honestly as I could, at the time, and said that as long as I thought that I was able to add something to the conversation. Or something like that! ;)
I still think that I, and Idol, can.
On the other hand, I’m 42 now. Could Idol go on another 10 years? Heck, will LJ be around another 10 years? (The former is possible, the latter is extremely questionable.) I’m no longer that guy who lives in the apartment above and ice cream shop, hanging out with his cats.
I’m engaged to a wonderful woman, who has a daughter. Season 8 was the first time that I’ve tried to manage both having a life and running Idol, and there were definitely some bumps in that road. COULD I figure it out? Absolutely.
But before any of that happened, back before Season 7, I had made a decision that Season 9 should be the end.
At the start of every season I would advertise, and I was seeing more and more people say “I’ll sit out this time. But maybe I’ll play next year!” without seeming to understand that I wasn’t promising anyone another year! So I would point out that if people weren’t participating, that I wasn’t just going to keep doing it!
Season 7 marked the first time that I had ever promised future seasons. But it had that catch. I’ll admit, at that point, Season 9 seemed like a really long way around. Now that it’s here: I won’t lie, I’ve been back and forth with my emotions about it.
There were 9 original contestants though, and I think if I am going to end this thing any time before I drop dead while posting a poll, that 9 is the appropriate number to go out on.
Novices are as important to each season as the veterans. What can a writer expect from playing LJ Idol if s/he has never participated before?
I love “newbies”!
Every season is a little bit different, but just as a general rule what they can look forward to is writing at least once a week. Sometimes they will love the topic. Sometimes they will hate it. At some point they will learn the art of taking something you thought you hated and twisting it to the side just enough so it becomes something that inspires you to create something you may have never done on our own!
I’d also say to expect “fear”! ;)
Idol is very much a Rorschach. You are going to see what you want to be there, and hopefully be able to get what you actually need from the experience. You just have to come in open to it.
Writers who are serious about their craft are likely to have an outlet for their writing already. What are some of the unique ways LJ Idol supports participants in their craft?
Over the years, we’ve actually had quite a few professionals come through the doors of Idol. Which was a shock when it first started happening, but was certainly nice to see.
I think the biggest support that Idol provides people of *any* skill level is that it gets them out their comfort zone. It doesn’t “make people think outside the box”, it’s a trash compactor that takes the box and pulverizes it.
Writing on a regular basis makes you better. Spending time with other writers, and bouncing off ideas with them, makes you better.
Idol is an extremely diverse community. If you don’t walk out of your time there having learned something about others, and yourself, you probably “did it wrong”! ;)
As in any ritual situation, it helps if new participants have a sense of how to conduct themselves. What are your top three recommendations for "fitting in" in this game?
Hmmm… just three? Off the top of my head I’ll say: Read other people’s entries and leave them comments. People love feedback. They are more likely to give you feedback in return and increase your visibility early on in the competition.
Remember why you are here. People can get caught up in the competition aspect and lose their heads. It happens. At the end of the day, it’s about your writing. Share what you have, and let other people share with you. It will take you far in “the game”, and in life.
Be open. To everything. There are twists and turns in the game. Some will seem dreadfully unfair. When they happen, go with it. Use the experience instead of allowing yourself to be distracted by it. Heck, that’s not “game advice”, that’s more “general life advice”. Then again, that’s why I put the twists in there. Because life is always going to find a way to sidetrack you, and make things difficult, and it’s rarely “fair”.
I try to make my twists much more balanced than life does, but it’s the same general principle. :D
Let's not forget about the nitty-gritty details: when does Season 9 start, what does a writer need to do to sign up, and where can a person go to find answers if s/he has other questions?
Season 9 starts March 3rd. I will be posting a Sign Up sheet on site http://therealljidol.livejournal.com/ on that day!
Sometime before that, I will also be posting a FAQ. But if there is anything not covered there, you can also ask me directly email@example.com.